TV is running scared of edgy comedy

...admits BBC comedy chief

Television chiefs are shunning controversial comedy in the wake of the ‘Sachsgate’ backlash, the BBC’s head of comedy has admitted.

Simon Wilson, the acting controller of comedy, said broadcasters were sticking with programmes they felt ‘safe’ with, following the furore over the phone calls made by Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand.

The BBC subsequently drew up guidelines restricting comedy shows featuring ‘derogatory remarks’.

In this week’s Radio Times, Wilson said: ‘Comedy ought to be risky – that’s what makes it funny – but in tough times channel controllers want stuff they feel safe with.’

His comments came as John Lloyd, the producer behind Not The Nine O’Clock News, Blackadder and QI, accused commissioners of being too scared of complaints.

He said: ‘You get this constant swing between puritanism and the desire to push things as far as they can go: what I call cavaliers v roundheads.

‘When we did Not the Nine o’Clock News the BBC really wanted young, edgy talent on screen and when we got 30 complaints the head of department said any decent satire show would have got 60.

‘These days broadcasters aren’t commissioning brave comedy because they’re far too worried about the risk.’

He added that the economic crisis may also have changed attitudes in comedy.

‘In a recession people want cheering up. If you look at cruel satire, it always does better in boom times like the 60s or 80s. Michael McIntyre and Frankie Boyle are both very funny, but they have to be seen in the right time and place.’

Published: 3 Dec 2009

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